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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   101
"How are you?" he inquired. "Let me feel your pulse."
He looked inquisitively at Meresyev, shook his head and
muttered: "M'yes. A strong character!" And then to
Meresyev he said: "Your friends tell things about your
adventures that are simply incredible, something like a
Jack London story."
He dropped into his seat, made himself more com-
fortable, at once grew limp and dozed off. It was evident
that this pale-faced man, no longer young, was dead
tired.
"Something like a Jack London story,'* thought
Meresyev and remote recollections of his boyhood came
to his mind, the story of a man with frozen legs crawling
through the desert followed by a sick and hungry wolf.
Lulled by the steady drone of the engines, everything
began to float, to lose its outline, to dissolve in the grey
gloom, and the last strange thought that passed through
Alexei's mind as he fell asleep was that there was no
war, no bombing, no continuous, torturous, gnawing pain
in the feet, no aircraft speeding towards Moscow, that
all this was something from a wonderful book that he
had read in his boyhood in the remote town of Kamyshin.